A/N - I know that it has been FOREVER. You might not even still be reading this story. If you are, I'm sorry. I hit a wall when I realized that it was getting rather more autobiographical than I thought. There is a Craig in my life, and in some ways I was very much like Audrey when I was in college (not as mean or arrogant, I hope). Things have not been resolved yet with my Craig, but don't worry, if I keep writing, I'll continue in complete FICTION.
After the auction, I needed to go back home and rest by myself for a while. I think it is rather clear by now that I have some social anxiety issues that I intentionally repress. I hate being in a crowd; I find I can't find myself within it and I struggle to maintain an identity. At least, that's what one psychologist rationalized when I was in eighth grade. But I'm not in middle school anymore; I'm in college, and it's high time that I figure out how to handle myself. I recognize that being in crowds or on stage exhausts me, and I need time to refresh before I have the energy to see other people.
I stared at my laptop screen. The Audrey Hepburn-themed online journal looked back with the taunts of knowing that it wasn't enough of a venue for me to figure out what my deal was with Shep and Craig, or with guys in general. I thought about that psychologist; what would she have said? Shep was too easy and good, and I felt I didn't deserve him? I felt I deserved more? Craig was too dangerous for my emotional state? He mistreated me? I wasn't worth enough to him? Why do I even care when we both have already established that we're not into each other?
I didn't know. I felt so tired of thinking about it all.
I threw myself onto my bed and closed my eyes, willing the heavens to burst into torrents of hail or lightning so that I'd have an excuse not to go out that night. A new outfit, makeup, heels – it all seemed like too much effort for the amount of energy I had left that night, but I had said I'd go out into the city with the group and I knew that they'd ask questions if I backed out.
Rule Number 20 – Don't confide. Don't talk about your problems, and do not rely on others for emotional support. It will drain them, and you will seem vulnerable. Instead, look within yourself for strength to persevere.
I never talk to Kate about these things. I don't gush about boys, like she does, and she knows nothing about the social anxieties I mentioned. I don't know why I hide these uncertainties from her, but it probably has something to do with a narcissistic need for perfection. Or so my psychologist might have said.
Instead, when I heard my phone buzzing on my desk, I rolled out of bed and glanced at it. Kate wanted me to come over and have a couple drinks before we headed out. I guessed that meant that I should get dressed and everything sooner rather than later.
I splashed some water onto my face to wake me from the funk I'd put myself into, and hit the iPod deck so that Girl Talk's mashups could get my heart beating to a more energetic rhythm. I pulled a royal violet fitted dress from my closet and ran a boar-bristle brush through my hair to smooth the muss my poor mood had caused. A gold necklace (gold's coming back in this season), pair of strappy heels, and next door to Kate's I went.
For some unspeakable reason, she was out of vodka. We made do with a couple glasses of sauvignon blanc while we waited for the boys and a cab to arrive. None of us felt like DDing that night, so cab it was. What a safe little bunch. David showed up with a flask of whiskey (no thanks), Josh showed up in Jesus sandals (no thanks), and Craig showed up with a grin and a blonde girl.
It surprised me. It surprised me that he'd invite a stranger into our group, especially in front of me, with all the weirdness that'd been happening between us lately. But I guess I didn't own him, or have any right to him, and I guess I really shouldn't have had any reason to care at all. I didn't want to see affected by his guest, so instead I smiled and introduced myself to her.
Her name was Ashley, and she was very nice, in a vapid kind of way, but she'd taken the time to pretty herself up and besides her high, drawling voice and obvious lack of intelligence, I had no reason to dislike her. We all had a few more drinks in Kate's Bedouin tent of a townhouse and then took a couple cabs out to the city.
I liked this bar much more than the other dance club. This dim, moody lounge featured a few rooms of varying degrees of intensity. A few of the group wanted to salsa on the dance floor, but I hung back and let them know that I'd join them later. David stayed with me, and we signaled a waitress to bring a couple of drinks to our spot on a few of the leather sofas.
My phone vibrated in my bag; Shep wanted to meet up. I let him know where we were and he said he'd be by with a few of the soccer players. It probably wasn't a good idea to have both of my boys in the same spot at the same time, especially with the amount I was drinking, but I was irritated enough with Craig that I wanted to show him that I could attract someone else too.
Shannon Jones arrived, and David went off to the dance floor with her. They invited me to come with them, but I was still in a bit of a mood and waved them off while I bee-lined for the bar. I'd already had quite a few, so I only ordered water. I faced the bar in the least approachable manner I knew, ignoring anyone who tried to talk to me, until Shep arrived with his posse.
I turned my back on my water and greeted him happily. I wasn't lying; I wasn't pretending. I was glad that he was there. Something about his warm hug and kiss on my cheek made me feel liked. Something about the way he stood just near enough to me to let everyone know that I was his – in a little way, at least – made me feel good, and it made me want to scoot myself a little closer so he could kiss my cheek again.
Yes, I had forgotten that I'd abandoned my water on the bar. I had forgotten that I hadn't been watching it. Maybe I had had too much to drink before, or maybe someone at the bar put something in my glass, but I don't remember much of the next several hours.
I was sitting on the floor, legs sticking out like a chicken's, and dress flared and rumpled. I was waiting for the bathroom in the hallway with my purse splayed out next to me. Everything had fallen out and I had to get it back in. A few people were walking back and forth from the restrooms, some looking at me strangely, but no one paid me much mind. I gathered my things and stumbled into the girls' room and locked the door.
The room was as clean as a nightclub bathroom could be expected to be. I laid my purse on the table and looked at myself in the mirror. I looked terrible. My eyes were red and bleary, and my mascara had smeared to my bottom lashline a little bit. Not a full-on raccoon, though. I could rub it away and fix it, but I couldn't fix the flush on my cheeks or the obvious slur in my voice that I was sure would accompany the confusion of my thoughts.
I realized I was alone. I grabbed my purse from the table to find my phone. I couldn't. It wasn't in there. Maybe it was still on the floor of the hallway? Nope, not there either. I would have to go back into the club to look for my friends.
I emerged from the bathroom hallway to find a nearly empty dance floor and only a few people finishing up their last drinks at the side bars. It was already closing time, and my friends were nowhere to be found! I unsuccessfully fought the urge to cry as I hurried out of the lounge, tears welling in my eyes and probably smearing my makeup even more.
The heels were no longer a good idea. The height was too tall for me to stumble along, and I tripped on the sidewalk, rolling my ankle to the side and scraping my hands and knees on the concrete as I braced my fall. I pulled the shoes off as I got up and brushed myself as clean as I could make myself, looking desperately toward the street for a cab home.
I heard a low whistle behind me. "Whew, Audrey, looks like somebody had a good ol' night!" I recognized that mocking tone. Ethan. How is it that he always seemed to pop up in the least opportune times?
"Don't start with me, Ethan," I replied testily. "I think someone put something in my drink."
"Roofies make you pass out, not turn into a hot mess," he joked, making me feel like an alcoholic slime. "Look, I'm heading back to campus now too. Let me take you home."
I know he's a scumbag and my mortal enemy, but the wounds on my knees were throbbing and the hot tears were beginning to stream freely on my face without any permission from my brain. I nodded my assent to Ethan and let him guide me barefoot down the street until he found us a cab.